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Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 07:41 GMT
Cradle of the mobile revolution

View of Helsinki harbour area
Historic Helsinki - but the Finns are the most forward-looking in mobile technology


By BBC business correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones

Finland is the rather unlikely birthplace of the worldwide mobile phone revolution.

This small, chilly country on Europe's northern fringe has the greatest concentration of mobile phone users and internet connections in the world. As a result, its citizens have become the guinea pigs of the emerging mobile technologies.

The Thibault family, who live in a Helsinki suburb, are typical. Mother, father and three daughters, aged 17, 14 and 10, each has their own mobile phone.

Fashion accessory


State of the art phone State of the art phone
Emilie, the 10-year-old, uses hers to phone her mother. Her older sisters are constantly sending text messages to friends. Melanie, who is 17, says phones are now fashion items: "Some girls change the covers to suit their clothes - if they're wearing a red dress they'll have a red phone that day."

Nokia, the Finnish mobile phone giant and Europe's most valuable company, is full of missionary zeal about the next stage of the information revolution.

The chief executive of Nokia Mobile phones, Matti Alahuta puts it like this: "In the internet, the US has been the driver. In mobile communications Europe has led. Our mission at Nokia is to be the key driver to make the mobile information society happen."

Race is on



You'll be in the pub - and you'll be able to take a picture of it and send it to your friends and say look at this - it's great here, come and join me.
Pekka Isostomppo
With Nokia now rolling out the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) phone, allowing access to simple internet services, the race is on to work out what consumers want and will pay for.

Sonera, the Finnish mobile network, is already claiming success for services that do not even need a WAP phone.

You can pay for a car-wash, a drink from a vending machine, or even a parking meter simply by dialling a number from your mobile phone The charge appears on your next Sonera bill and the network gets a cut.

With income from voice calls threatened by falling charges, these new forms of revenue will become more and more important.

Security

That is why all the different players - the manufacturers, the networks, and the software designers - are scrapping over the potential spoils of mobile e-commerce. But if consumers are to shop from their mobiles they will need to be confident about security.

Sonera has just announced a joint venture with Mastercard to turn the simcard - the chip in the back of every mobile phone - into a combination of credit card and passport. Users have a pincode which - in theory - means the phone will not be of any use if it is stolen.

Killer application

Back at Nokia House young executives scurry to and fro sending messages to each other and enthusing about the greater sophistication that third generation mobile phones will offer.

New Nokia mobile phone showing picture of the person who is calling you We will be able to see the people we call on mobiles
Between sending and responding to messages from his boss, who is in a board meeting, 27-year-old Pekka Isostomppo explains what he sees as one 'killer application'. "You'll be in the pub - and you'll be able to take a picture of it and send it to your friends and say look at this - it's great here, come and join me."

The truth is that nobody quite knows what we will really want to do with our mobiles - but the phenomenal growth that Nokia and Sonera have seen in their home market has convinced these companies that consumers are ready and willing to pay for mobiles that do more.

With Nokia shares accounting for 80% of the Helsinki stock market's value and Sonera making up another 10%, Finland has an awful lot riding on that belief.

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